Gardeners enjoy success with desert plant, European pruning technique
Published July 24, 2014
BY RACHAEL SHAFF
Here in Kenosha County, it’s not unusual to see hostas growing in someone’s yard. And while roses, peonies and hydrangeas may be beautiful, most folks don’t bat an eye when they see them in a southeastern Wisconsin garden because they’re pretty common in these parts.
But every now and then a plant growing in a Kenosha yard gets noticed because it’s unexpected.
Cactus grows on her
Sometimes even the gardener is caught off guard.
Take Elaine Ibsen. She never envisioned a cactus in her Kenosha yard.
While the 85-year-old always has been interested in unusual plants, it seemed far-fetched to expect a desert-typical one to flourish here in the Midwest. But that’s exactly what’s happened.
“Who would want a cactus?” Ibsen said. “They are full of spikes and needles, but now I’m enthralled. I’ve changed my mind about them.”
Three years ago, a friend gave Ibsen four cladodes — Ibsen refers to them as paddles — from a prickly pear cactus. Ibsen planted two in her yard, and to her surprise, it’s thriving and even flowering.
“In the winter it sits under piles of snow deflated, and in spring it inflates and keeps reaching for the sky,” she said. “It gets more and more paddles. And this year I had lots of beautiful yellow flowers on it.”
The plant is not native to Kenosha or southeastern Wisconsin, but it is naturally found in other parts of the state, according to Barb Larson, horticulture educator at Kenosha County University of Wisconsin-Extension.
“I’ve seen home gardens in the Midwest with prickly pear cactus, but many people don’t want to grow them because of the thorns,” Larson said.
The thorns can be a nuisance for Ibsen. That’s why she has fenced the cactus to ensure children and others do not fall into it.
“I didn’t want anyone to get close enough to be hurt,” she said. “I don’t like to even weed around it because I have gotten pricked.”
Luckily, the cactus is low-maintenance and winter-hardy, making it one of Ibsen’s favorite features in her garden.
“I’m now 85 years old, and my knees are bad,” she said. “My kids bought me a cart to sit on when I’m outside working, but it is still hard to get up. It’s nice that I don’t have to pay much attention to (the cactus).”
Turning heads with a two-dimensional pear
Kenosha resident Dave Sanders also finds enjoyment in planting the unexpected in his private garden. The retired landscaper likes to stray from common garden layouts.
“When you’re doing landscaping, the customer always wants what the neighbor has,” Sanders said. “I was always interested in things that were not the same thing. When you get home from a day of seeing gardens, you want to look at something different.”
He has experimented with many varieties in his time, and has been successful with a few. One of Sanders’ treasured plants is a 10-year-old pear tree that has been pruned in the espalier technique. Twice a year, Sanders prunes the pear tree, which allows it to take on a flat shape.
Larson said espalier is a pruning and training technique to grow a tree in two dimensions instead of three. The tree is trained to stay flat against a wall to save space.
“It is used fairly often in European gardens and very small urban gardens in the United States. You will usually find them in very urban areas with limited growing space,” Larson said. “It is a technique that is done by people who want fruit trees, but do not have the space. So, they grow the tree against a wall or a fence, and they trim it to be flat against the wall. It gives them the apples and peaches they’d like, but not as many as a full tree would produce.”
Sanders said he always was interested in the pruning technique. The tree does not bear fruit because it’s along his garage, which is shady.
“If I moved it, it probably would (grow fruit), but I like it where it is because it fills up that blank space,” Sanders said.
Since owning the pear tree, he also has used the pruning technique on a crabapple tree and given a home to a rare medlar fruit tree from Eastern Europe.
Sanders has never tried eating the medlar fruit since planting it four years ago. He said he expects the tree to produce its largest crop later this summer. Medlar is only eaten raw after bletting, a process in which the fruit is spread on some type of absorptive material, such as straw, sawdust or bran, and allowed to ripen for several weeks in a cool place.
Read more: http://www.kenoshanews.com/news/check_out_unique_plants_in_these_kenosha_yards_478109670.html
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